It’s difficult enough to compete with other job seekers and land a job. But if you’re a veteran, the challenge can be even more overwhelming.
Because civilian job seekers have been a part of the job market for years, they’re up to date with in-demand skills and work experience. While veterans fresh out of the military may not have those advantages, they do have other strengths they can harness to improve their job prospects.
Let’s explore what types of jobs veterans can do if they’re new to the civilian job market.
A “veteran job” simply describes a type of job opportunity that’s friendly to veterans. While this can refer to specific veteran hiring programs, it can also describe a job that’s well suited to the unique skills and experiences that veterans can have.
Some employers are specifically looking to hire veterans as part of their company mission. Others even provide benefits that are specifically suited to veterans, active military personnel, and their families.
Often, a good veteran job involves a career with entry-level positions that can help you develop your skills. That’s because finding a job as a veteran isn’t always easy. There were 581,000 unemployed veterans in 2020. The unemployment rate for veterans was 7.3% that same year.
If you’re a veteran struggling to start your civilian career, here are seven tips to help you along your journey.
Even though many veterans haven’t gathered experience in traditional civilian jobs, you likely have highly-valuable skills due to your time in the military.
Look at your experience in the military and in your personal life. What skills did you develop during your time in the military? How did your time in the forces shape you as a person?
Many of the skills you’ll have learned are transferable to the civilian job market. Consider both the soft skills and hard skills you may have. Hard skills describe job-specific knowledge that allows you to perform your duties effectively, while soft skills refer to personal character traits that make you a better worker.
The hard and soft skills you’ll have will depend on what you did in the military. Some examples include:
Ability to work under pressure
Physical strength and endurance
Think about what you’re interested in doing and what skills you want to develop further. For instance, did you thrive in moments of leadership? Or did you prefer to follow orders and a strict set of rules and regulations? These questions will help you determine what would work best for your future career.
You can start looking for a job before leaving the military and becoming a veteran. Give yourself an edge by starting the job search process earlier.
Many employers provide military employees with leave when they need to be on duty. This means you can land a job now and start developing your skills in the civilian workforce before you retire from the military — all without jeopardizing either career.
By starting your job search early, you’ll give yourself a chance to make a smoother transition once you leave the military. For instance, let’s say it takes you six months to land a job. If you start your job search one year before you retire from the military, you won’t be left in-between jobs.
Early on in your search, consider the contacts that you already have in your professional network. Perhaps there are connections you made while serving that could offer potential employment options or provide you with a reference.
Make a point of speaking with other veterans you know who have recently left the service and who may be able to offer you some tips for transitioning to civilian employment.
One of the biggest elements of finding a job in the civilian market is your resume. A resume can make or break your job search. It’s important to know that what makes you an ideal candidate for the military isn’t the same as what you should write on your resume.
Contact info, including your address, phone number, and email address
Career objective or summary statement — you can discuss your experience in the military in this statement
Transferable skills you’ve developed during your time in the military
Specific job experience — military and other — including responsibilities, tasks, and results you’ve achieved
Volunteer experience if you have any
Education — whether you’ve obtained it in the military or not
Other qualifications that are relevant to the job you’re applying to
Accomplishments, whether they’re related to your time in the military or not
Any security clearances you had during your time in the military
In addition, here are some tips to make your resume stand out:
Keep it short — a good resume is usually a single page.
Format your resume to be skimmable. Recruiters have several resumes to sift through, and making it skimmable makes it easier for them to digest the information.
Customize your resume to each job you’re applying for. Put more emphasis on the skills and values the company holds dear.
Use civilian language (employees instead of subordinates, supervised instead of commanded). If you’re unsure about what language to use, have a civilian friend or family member look over your resume before you send in your job application.
Don’t be afraid to invest a lot of time in your resume. Once you have a solid resume, you can customize it quickly and apply to more jobs much faster.
Many hiring businesses will require a cover letter during your application. However, we suggest writing a cover letter even when prospective employers don’t ask for one.
In your cover letter, start by introducing yourself and your military background. While you shouldn’t spend several paragraphs going into every single detail about your time in the military, you should take the time to explain how your background makes you valuable for the position you’re applying for.
Make sure to customize the cover letter to specify why you’re interested in that specific position and company. Do their values align with the type of candidate you are? Are they asking for skills and experience that you’ve developed during your time in the military? Can your unique work ethic and team spirit make a valuable addition to their team?
Finally, thank them for their time before you write your sign-off and signature.
Nowadays, most companies post their job listings online. But there’s still room for old-fashioned in-person applications.
If applicable, visit the physical location you’re applying to. Ask to speak to the manager or hiring manager so that you can give them a printed copy of your resume and cover letter. You can introduce yourself quickly and mention your interest in the position.
Although you can apply in person, many companies will still require you to apply online to make applicant tracking easier. If this is the case, apply online first. Mention your online application to the hiring manager when you meet them in person.
Have you landed an interview after applying for jobs? Congratulations! Now it’s time to make a good impression on your prospective employers.
Dress appropriately for the occasion. What’s appropriate will depend on what type of company you applied to. For instance, formal business attire may be required for companies in the financial sector, while business casual may be better suited for an IT environment.
Research information about the company culture online to get an idea of how to dress. When in doubt, always go more formal rather than less formal. You should never go less formal than business casual.
During the interview, be polite and professional. You should also behave politely with everyone you meet before the interview, including receptionists and assistants.
Smile and make eye contact with your interviewers. Try to relax while remaining professional. Remember to breathe.
Be honest throughout the interview. Avoid exaggerating your skill level or shifting around questions that make you uncomfortable. You should also avoid discussing salary expectations at a first-round interview. This type of discussion is best suited for after you get an offer for a job. The only exception to this rule is when your interviewer asks you about your salary expectations directly.
Finally, it’s important to realize your worth as a veteran. You deserve a fulfilling job that pays you what you’re worth.
Don’t be afraid to sell yourself and your skills while writing your cover letters and going through job interviews. While it feels uncomfortable for many people to “brag” about their strengths, potential employers won’t know what you’re worth unless you explain it to them.
It’s important to know your weaknesses, too. Knowing your weaknesses will allow you to steer clear of jobs that will drain you and leave you feeling unfulfilled.
Take your time to find a job that values your skills and that you see yourself enjoying. It helps to save money while you’re still in the military to give yourself that time. The more you save, the longer you’ll have to find your ideal civilian job before you have to settle for something you don’t enjoy.
Are you looking for specific career options as a veteran? These five companies have programs specifically designed to hire veterans.
If you’ve ever rented a car, you may have come across Enterprise holdings. But did you know that Enterprise was founded by a veteran? That’s why they still support the military to this day.
According to Enterprise’s website, military veterans and active guard members make up over 10% of their labor force in the US. They believe the work ethic developed by many veterans translates well into their company.
Whether you’re already a veteran or are still active in the military, CapitalOne may have employment options for you.
The company offers several benefits for veteran employees and military personnel who are still active. For instance, you’ll receive continuous benefits even when you’re on leave for uniformed services. In total, they provide 100% salary compensation for up to 8 weeks of leave due to military training.
CapitalOne also provides military spouse support. So, if you’re a military spouse and not a veteran yourself, this could be an interesting company to work for.
Are you looking for a great place to work? Look no further than the Wounded Warrior Project. They have an impressive 4-star employer rating from the Vets Indexes. They’re also known as one of The NonProfit Times’ (NPT) best nonprofits to work for since 2018.
When you work for the Wounded Warrior Project, you’ll also be contributing to a cause that honors and empowers wounded warriors.
Did you know that 15% of Boeing’s US workforce is made up of veterans? By working there, you’re likely to meet like-minded colleagues you can relate to.
They’ve hired over 13,500 veterans since 2010 and continually invest in veteran-specific programs.
Dow understands that contributing to the military helps people develop skills and gain highly valuable experience. Because of this, military experience of E6 ranking or higher is equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree for US and Canadian jobs.
They also provide up to five years of military leave for employees who still serve in the US military, with continued compensation and benefits in most cases.
Don’t get discouraged too quickly if you struggle to find your dream job right out of the military.
Give yourself a chance to explore your options, develop your skills, and get your foot in the door. As you gain more experience, you’ll also start building your professional network, which will give you another edge in the job market. And don’t be afraid to use the contacts you already have.
Make sure to sign up for Jobcase to get notified of job listings opening up near you. You can also network with the community and find other veterans to exchange tips and advice.